Social Justice Philanthropy as Poverty Politics: A Relational Poverty Analysis of Alternative Philanthropic Practices
MetadataShow full item record
In the current era of deepened inequality and poverty in the U.S., philanthropy plays an increasing role in funding and governing the possible range of poverty action. Philanthropy acts upon poverty in three ways: funding poverty research, providing grants to anti-poverty nonprofit programs, and governing classed subjects who are the subject of/in philanthropy. While critical scholars criticize philanthropy for (re)producing wealth inequality and privileged classed subjects, there is a niche of philanthropic practices that purport to do things different, and tackle the root causes which produce and sustain impoverishment. This dissertation examines the possibilities and limitations to transforming processes of impoverishment through social justice philanthropy, the leading edge of alternative contemporary philanthropic practice in the U.S. I use a relational poverty analysis to consider social justice philanthropy as poverty politics. In this analysis, I explore the ways that social justice philanthropy understands and conceptualizes poverty, and grounds this through their grant-making practices. My research emphasizes the challenges in enacting a transformative poverty politics on the ground, largely because of the geohistorical processes of colonialism, exploitative labor relations, and decades of concentrated state devolution. This dissertation also considers the ways in which social justice philanthropy impacts and transforms the actors involved in philanthropy. I explore the constitution of social justice philanthropists, an imagined actor who is supposed to take critical learning about race, class and privilege and internalize this into a reflexive practice. However, I identify two primary challenges to individual level transformation. First, the fundraising process of social justice philanthropy largely leaves the material experiences of privilege unexamined as they present in philanthropy. Second, the language and tools used to develop a critical dialogue on race and class become markers for performing (middle) class distinction, and as such, the more privileged actors of social justice philanthropy secure class privilege through their philanthropic participation. This dissertation contributes to philanthropic studies by deepening theorization about the structural processes of impoverishment in the philanthropic process. Further, it extends existing debates in relational poverty and critical geographic studies that consider the ways that state restructuring affect the management and governance of poverty, poorer persons and impoverished places. Finally, this dissertation speaks to practitioners and activists engaged in reimagining the nonprofit and philanthropic sector, and how existing institutions engage and act upon the root causes of impoverishment.
- Geography